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Reaching Hard-to-Reach Prospects with Referral Events

Reaching Hard-to-Reach Prospects with Referral Events

In this era of harder-to-reach prospects – especially among the affluent and wealthy – Social Prospecting has become the business-building model of choice for many successful advisors/agents. To my mind, Social Prospecting, quite simply, is the use of social environments to identify, meet, and grow relationships with qualified prospects. For over 16 years, I’ve been teaching financial professionals how to build a thriving referral-based business.  Not only is this an effective marketing strategy, it’s also a lot of fun!

Why Does Social Prospecting Work?
While many of your new prospects are ready to discuss their financial situation and financial goals with you on the very first appointment, many others are not. Many solid prospects would prefer to meet you in a more social setting first; to get a feel for you – do they like you, do they trust you, etc. Using referral events and other social prospecting tactics, you can reach many more high-level prospects than you may be reaching now; especially the affluent and wealthy.

Examples of Social Prospecting
Social Prospecting encompasses a wide range of activities. Here are a few you might consider:

  • Client Appreciation Events
  • Referral Events (Event Marketing)
  • Community Service Activities
  • Charity Events (Philanthropic Endeavors)
  • Club Memberships
  • Hobby or Special Interest Groups

In this article, I’ll touch on two of these activities – Client Appreciation Events and Referral Events.

Client Appreciation Events
I’d like to draw a distinction between what are called Client Appreciation Events and Referral Events. In a nutshell, a client appreciation event is some sort of social gathering (fancy or informal) with the sole purpose of saying “thank you” to one or more clients. The purpose of a referral event, while the activity can be the same, is for one or more clients to bring one or more prospects to meet you.

The trouble I often see with these events is that advisors try to turn a client appreciation event into a referral event. They try to do a “hybrid.” While hybrids have their place, I believe you will see better results with most of your events if you limit them to one purpose – either appreciate the business (to build loyalty), or host an event where your clients are expected to introduce you to one or more prospects.

Client appreciation events allow you take your client relationships to new levels of business friendship that probably wouldn’t be possible through the normal course of business activities. This dynamic not only enhances client loyalty, it also makes you more referable. People give referrals to people they like and trust. Client appreciation events contribute significantly to this dynamic.

Types of Client Appreciation Events

  • Holiday Parties
  • Picnics
  • Sporting Events
  • Wine & Cheese Tastings
  • Chocolate Tastings
  • Intimate Fancy Dinners
  • Golf Outings or Swing Clinics
  • Boat Outings
  • Ski Trips
  • Theater Events
  • Cooking Classes

Referral Events that Attract Qualified Prospects
You host a referral event for the express purpose of your clients introducing you to prospects in a social environment. Be very clear with your clients about the purpose of this event. You’ll have much more success. As a rule, you want to keep your referral events much smaller than your client appreciation events. Remember, the purpose of a referral event is to create a solid connection between you and your new prospects. If you have too many prospects to meet, you may not connect well with any of them.

Referral Events – Case Studies

Theater Excursion
Don Green is a financial advisor near Detroit, MI. Every year Don arranges for a 2-day theater trip via motor coach; alternating between Chicago and Toronto. Don arranges the bus, theater tickets, hotel, and dinner. His very affluent client and their very affluent guests actually pay their own way. He just makes all the arrangements

Over the course of 2 days he spends several hours on the bus with these folks, has dinner and breakfast with them, and a wonderful evening at the theater. Don told me that “People get off the bus, shake my hand, thank me for a wonderful time. Then they say ‘we have some questions about our finances, do you think you can find some time for us?” Don gets several wealthy clients this way each year – well worth his investment in time and effort.

The Chef’s Table
Another referral event idea is The Chef’s Table.  It’s the kind of event that clients like to attend and feel comfortable inviting a guest to. The chef is usually involved in this event. Sometimes he/she prepares a special entrée or dessert just for the group. They can also recommend wine pairings for the meal.

If you want to make this an evening no one will forget, have your guests picked up from their homes in a limo. Talk about the “wow” factor! For a personal touch – and a nice excuse for getting back with your clients and their guests – take some photographs of the attendees. Hire a professional, if you can afford it.

Let’s Take a Boat Ride
I know an advisor who uses his boat all summer long as a way to entertain clients and their guests. “Bring a guest and you get to spend the day on my boat.”  What a way to have a fun summer, celebrate your current client relationships, and prospect for new business.

There are two things I particularly like about “boat prospecting.”  First, it’s a small group, so you get a lot of time with everyone. Second, you get to know them in a way that has absolutely nothing to do with your business. You go through an adventure together – especially if you do some fishing or other water sports. Adventures like these almost always contribute to people trusting each other more.

Getting Guests to Referral Events
I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Bill Curry. Based in Cleveland, Bill knows just about all there is to know when it comes to putting on successful events (he was an event planner before he joined the financial services profession). Bill told me that, “The advisor is the Sponsor, and the client is the Host.”  Which is a better phone call to the guest? “George, my financial advisor, wants to take me to dinner and bring you along as a guest.”  OR  “George, I’m hosting a dinner party at Chez Expensive to introduce you to our personal financial advisor who might prove to be a great resource for you. It’s going to be a lot of fun. Are up for it?”

The Wow Factor!
Client appreciation events and referral events need not be expensive propositions. The key is handling all the details – to the extent that your guests really notice.  Make your invitations standout – not like run-of-the-mill wedding invitations that so many advisors use. Have someone available to greet them as they arrive to the event. Make sure the directions are perfectly clear or, better yet, send a car to pick them up. Call all your guests before the event to check on special food restrictions or preferences. And, most importantly, follow up. Don’t host a referral event if you don’t set aside time to follow up with your guests. Call your client first, if you like, but call the prospect within 48 hours of the event.

Copyright MMXI by Bill Cates

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Bill Cates has just released The Referral Advantage™ Video Training Program as well as the author of “Get More Referrals Now!” and “Don’t Keep Me a Secret!”.  Bill is offering you a free copy of his report “7 Deadly Referral Mistakes” as well as a subscription to his free referral newsletter with 30,000+ subscribers. (What do they know that you don’t?)  Go to  To contact Bill, send him an email:

About Bill Cates

Bill Cates
Bill Cates is the President of Referral Coach International.  His trademarked Referral Advantage™ Program has been featured in such publications as Success Magazine, Entrepreneur Magazine, Selling Power and Research Magazine, and his own business success has been featured in Money Magazine. Bill is a regular contributing editor for many financial services publications. Visit his Web site at Bill Cates, author of “Get More Referrals Now!” and “Don’t Keep Me a Secret!” is offering you a free copy of his report “7 Deadly Referral Mistakes” as well as a subscription to his free referral newsletter with 30,000+ subscribers. (What do they know that you don’t?)  Go to  To contact Bill, send him an email at or call (301) 497-2200.

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